Retail therapy — that’s how Coterie, a Boutique owner and fashion curator Bess Clark refers to the process of shopping at her store. Since opening her business five years ago, Clark has steered women away from the impulse buy and instead swayed their attention to clothing that fits their lifestyle and shape.
“As women, we have to do hair, makeup, get the kids ready or feed the dog,” Clark said. “Getting dressed, you want to look good, but it should take only five minutes.”
For five years, she has brought contemporary women’s clothing to Anne Arundel County, a market that was noticeably lacking when compared with Los Angeles, where she spent eight years working for a corporate law firm.
“The cool part is that older women are realizing what contemporary clothing is,” Clark said. “Our 50-and-over client base is expanding. Our clothes fit all ages, but it’s young and fresh. And it’s not missy.”
After celebrating Coterie’s fifth anniversary with a ribbon cutting ceremony on March 8, Clark reflected on her journey. She opened her first shop on Mountain Road in March 2014 and moved to the Magothy Gateway shopping center in June 2017, welcoming more foot traffic.
While business has grown, so have the challenges, such as the expanding presence of online retailers.
“I’m able to do what an algorithm doesn’t,” Clark said. “What fits their body? What will look good on them? I can find something they wouldn’t pick, something outside their comfort zone that looks great on them.”
Coterie, a Boutique is now offering what Clark calls Prime Styling, a mix of services like wardrobe assessment, portrait sessions and a body changes consultation.
“I’m bringing fashion to people’s front door,” she said. “I’m not just going to show up with a box and say, ‘Maybe you like it, maybe you don’t.’”
Clark travels to marketplaces across the nation to handpick clothing and accessories that fit her clients’ tastes. Her goal is to keep her store stocked with high-quality items that are affordable and stylish without being overly trendy.
“People pay more for name recognition and label recognition,” Clark said. “Other places will private-label clothing and charge what they want. I don’t do that. If you’re label conscious, this isn’t the place for you. We carry some name brands, like Levi, but value is important to women. I’m going to cater to that.”
Looking toward the future of her business, Clark said it will keep evolving but with the same core mission of offering contemporary clothing and a shopping experience that is personalized, comfortable and fair for the customer.
“We’ll never back down from having honesty and integrity and being the antithesis of retail,” Clark said. “I’m not here to rip people off.”
Her greatest success over the last five years is thriving in the age of online sales and “keeping up with the ever-changing retail landscape to make sure we don’t become another victim of the retail apocalypse.”
“To keep brick and mortar alive and well is important for communities,” Clark said. “Successful businesses build stronger communities.
“I’m proud to see more clothing boutiques opening in the area,” she added. “That means that we’ve all decided we are worth having these types of businesses in our area. Five years ago, that seemed crazy to so many people. That evolution of thought is probably what I’m most proud of.”
Coterie, a Boutique is located in the Magothy Gateway shopping center at 147c Ritchie Highway in Severna Park.